He warned me if I ever touched it, he’d knock my teeth through my skull. Supposedly, if he tweaks the knobs and bunny-ears just right, he can dial in the Playboy channel. I’ve personally only ever seen him manage a staticky sitcom. But whatever. I swipe the TV anyway and set it on a cardboard box near the foot of my bed. Its bulky glass-and-steel weight bows the cardboard, but that’s cool. Maybe part of me hopes it’ll collapse and smash to pieces. Just like Theo shattered our whole stupid brotherhood.
I mean, he didn’t even say goodbye.
I pop a knob on the television, and a static snowstorm fills the screen. Click, click, click. No matter how far I twist the dial, no Playboy channel appears. Not even a bad sitcom. Just static—and I know what happens to morons who stare into staticky TVs. I’ve seen Poltergeist, I’m no scab. I’ve caught every ghost show, freak show, creep show there is, thanks to our favorite late-night horror hosts.
Svengoolie, Dr. Creep, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.
Theo and I used to watch them together. Not on this crappy black-and-white heap. But on the TV in the family room, years ago, before Mom went drunk-driving and Dad stopped paying the cable bill. Theo loved the cheesy slashers, and I dug anything with zombies.
Frustrated, I snap his television off. It’s getting late, and I’ve still got school tomorrow. My usual lonely routine. I nuke a TV dinner, then crawl into bed with the dismal taste of meatloaf in my mouth. I shed my eyeglasses and sink into the basement’s boxy cobweb shadows, staring foggy-eyed out the window. Where’s Theo crashing tonight? Somewhere in the city on some rock star wannabe’s couch? Some sleazy hotel with his headbanger girlfriend?
Who knows? Dad doesn’t care. Wasn’t even gonna report Theo missing until I threatened to do it. Then he badmouthed him the whole time—shitty grades, no respect for authority. The cops agreed, runaway punks were a dime a dozen, Theo and his crush were typical rowdy seventeen-year-olds. They said he’d come home when he got hungry enough, or cold enough, or bored enough.
But three weeks, and not even a secret phone call while Dad’s working graveyard to tell me he’s fine, having a blast. Not so much as a postcard swearing to take me with him one day.
I grit my eyes closed, ignore the pit in my guts until darkness drags me into empty dreams. Painless nothingness.
Feels like a thousand hours later when Theo calls my name.
“Jeremy, dammit, wake up!” His voice crackles.
I grunt into my pillow, pulling myself up from the muck of unconsciousness. Theo brought a lantern, like when we used to camp in the woods behind our house. My bedroom flickers with dull gray light. I fumble for my eyeglasses, but the nightstand’s empty.
“Jeremy, it knows us…”
What knows us?
“Dad’s gonna pulverize you,” I mumble, sitting up, bangs mopping my blurry eyesight. “Where’ve you been?”
Theo doesn’t answer.
I squint at the foot of my bed, at the greasy fog-light of his lantern.
Only, it’s not a lantern. His television is on.
Oh balls, I’m dead. “Look, Theo, I’m sorry. You were gone so long…” The excuse fizzles. I squint at the flickering shadow-shapes of my sunken bedroom.
“Jeremy!” Voice metallic, echoing from the television. “It gets inside…”
This has to be a nightmare.
Shadows swirl inside the TV’s buzzing light. Blurry-eyed, I practically press my nose to the glass. Static lightning-bolts across the screen, manifesting an eerie smooth-faced creature. No eyes, no mouth, no nose. Just bony limbs and spikey shoulders hunched like an emaciated gargoyle over a white-neon station logo.
The gargoyle-thing tilts its head as if locking that faceless gaze on me.
“Stay tuned for the Video Macabre, Jeeerrreeemmmyyy…”
I jerk backwards at the growl of my name. Static rushes the screen, flickering oblivion, and Theo’s voice shouts out, crackling, filling with static. “She’s dead… Collette’s dead… Blood everywhere…! Jeremy!”
Before I can unchoke my idiot terror long enough to scream, What’s happening? Where is he? Who the hell is Collette?—the television sparks and cuts to black.
“Station 99?” Heather Gibson says the next day. We’re ditching sixth period, loitering in the ancient tennis courts behind the high school. She flicks a cigarette at me. “You’re full of it. Cable channels don’t go that high.”
“Didn’t say it was a cable channel.” I lean against the chain link fence, bone-deep exhausted from thinking about this. But I can’t stop. “It was something else. A prank. I don’t know. But that was Theo’s voice. I know it was.”
“Maybe he rigged a VCR?”
“There’s no VCR. It’s just a clunker, some off-brand TV from like the ’60s.”
Heather scrapes spikey pink bangs aside and lights another menthol. “What about airtime on public access? You said Theo wants to be a rock star.”
“A lead singer, yeah.” I cough out a laugh. “He’s not really any good. But, yeah, maybe that’s it.”
“Totally. A trippy hardcore opening to some rock video.” Heather sucker-punches my arm. “Don’t look so gloomy. Your brother’s practically famous.”
Awkward silence descends. I stare at her steel toe boots. She’s cute, in an edgy way. Kinda punk rock and stylish like the girls Theo dates—like girls on MTV. We’ve hung out off and on since freshman year started, almost three months now. Some days, I get the feeling she likes me, like in that way. But I’ve never made a move. Too afraid to blow it. Afraid if I did, Theo would rib me for shooting above my horizons. Stupid to care what a guy who became a dropout thinks.
“So,” Heather says, “who’s Collette anyway?”
“His girlfriend, I think.”
“You don’t know his girlfriend’s name?”
I shrug. “He has so many. Anyway, Collette isn’t the one he ran away with. That’s Amy Sanchez. I think… I think Collette might be Collette Johnson. Some of Theo’s friends told me she went missing two nights ago. Her parents went on the evening news and everything.”
“Wait, what?” Heather stops smiling. “If she’s with Theo, you gotta tell the cops.”
“I don’t know for sure she’s with Theo. It’s just something my television said.”
“Your television said she’s dead. Dude, Jeremy, this is too freaky.”
“Maybe I dreamed it.”
“Still freaky.” Heather flicks her cigarette. “I gotta get to last period.”
“That’s cool.” Wishing I was edgier, wishing I was someone else, I adjust my glasses. Found them under my bed after Theo’s television went black. “But hey, will you ask around? See if anyone’s heard of Station 99?”
“Or the Video Macabre?” Heather does her worst Svengoolie, then clears her throat with an apology. “I’ll see what I can find out.”
Nine o’clock. Every light in my empty house blazes. My TV dinner congeals on the coffee table in the family room. Should’ve manned up before sundown. Except, the second I got home, I swore I felt Theo’s television in the basement, waiting for me. My bones locked up like picture tubes and steel. All I had the balls for was uneaten meatloaf on the couch, television dark.
Now, I force myself to confront our 32-inch color Zenith. There’s a remote, but I think Station 99 prefers dials. I hit the power. Color ignites the screen, a rerun of Family Ties. I twist the dial, watching the station numbers flicker past. Without basic cable, ghost-static ices the higher channels, but I keep twisting.
Heartbeat rioting…81…Static buzzing…83…
The Zenith cycles back to channel 2.
The nine o’clock news.
I’m about to keep going, one more spin around the tilt-o-whirl of madness, but a familiar name stabs my ears.
“…Missing Chester High senior Collette Johnson was discovered this afternoon beneath a city offramp. Police aren’t disclosing the nature of her death, but witnesses describe disturbing amounts of blood…blood everywhere…”
The newscaster’s voice buzzes surreal between my ears.
I stagger into the kitchen and rip the phone off the hook. But who do I call? Heather? Never asked for her number. Dad at his graveyard shift? The cops? And say what? Theo’s freaky, possessed television predicted this?
They’ll blame him, and Theo didn’t do this. No way. No way.
I end up pacing the kitchen, back and forth until exhaustion blurs my brain. Need some sleep already.
I approach the basement stairs, chewing my coward lip. The stairwell stretches like a jagged nightmare-throat down to the dank belly of my bedroom. I swipe the light switch. The light bulb hanging at the murky bottom stays murky. Of course it does.
I push my glasses higher. Longer I stare, the more I think I see the dimmest ghost-flicker of gray light down there. Theo? …Collette?
“Screw this.” I slam the basement door. I’ll crash on the couch tonight.
“Jeremy, wake up!”
Theo’s voice crackles along the shadow-sticky edges of my mind. I sit up, blinking against murky gray light, and fumble for my glasses on the coffee table.
Only, I’m not on the couch. Where—
My hand knocks my bedside lamp.
It topples but the gray light remains. The light at the foot of my bed.
Theo’s television. Glowing with black-and-white smudges, voices buzzing like corpse-flies. “Blood everywhere…!”
“Theo? Where are you!” I skitter closer, jam my blurry vision against the screen.
The gargoyle-thing station logo lurks in a test-pattern sea of starless night.
Please stand by…
The words echo my gummy vision.
The gargoyle-thing straightens from its bony crouch.
Static zigzags, and a rolling movie reel fills the screen, counting down…3…2…
The gargoyle-thing reappears.
Looks almost 3D now, live-action. Fish-pale, bald, facing the camera with its featureless face. That fleshy void gapes at me. No mouth, no nose, ribbons of 35mm film blindfold its eyes.
“Welcome back, Jeeerrreeemmmyyy, to Station 99’s Video Macabre!”
It spreads sharp-nailed hands, and the camera pans out to reveal a haunted graveyard soundstage. Fog-machine mist swirls between balsawood coffins and styrofoam tombstones. Skeletons bask in dangling cardboard moonlight. Just like the campy, low-rent set-ups used by Elvira and Svengoolie.
“Now, lonesome fright fan…” The gargoyle-thing’s chin bobs, a muffled
meat-puppet voice. “I bring you the blood-soaked conclusion to Camp Slash-Away, starring Theo Romero and Amy Sanchez!”
Theo? Camp Slash-Away? But I know that movie.
The one about Claw Face, the undead hiker maniac who got mauled by a grizzly while his fellow campers escaped to safety. For revenge, dude shreds every teenager in his woods with steel bear claws.
In a lightning-slash of static, Station 99’s graveyard soundstage cuts to a forest. Trees careen past the camera, the shaky perspective of someone running for their life. A smear of log cabins, an archery range. I know this scene! Theo and I watched it a hundred times. This is where the last-camper-standing runs to the boathouse and grabs the harpoon. She’s gonna spear Claw Face’s eyeball with it—then with a ropy twist and yank of optic nerves, she’ll rip out his undead brain! We used to cheer every time. The gross-out effects freaking rock.
But as the camera hard-cuts to the boathouse door slamming open, something’s off. The wall of rusty tools and the old rowboat creaking on the water are the same. But the lean-mean camp counselor with the blood-matted blond curls and the shredded Camp Wickery Woods T-shirt isn’t any of those things.
She’s Amy Sanchez.
Even in black-and-white, I recognize her. My brother’s girlfriend. Spikey Joan Jett hair, heavy tear-streaked eyeliner. Instead of yanking the harpoon off the wall, Amy climbs into the rowboat.
“Amy, no!” I shout at the television. “You gotta get the harpoon!”
She doesn’t hear me. She grabs an oar, not realizing the boat is roped to the dock, not realizing oars are no match for Claw Face.
A hulking shadow fills the boathouse door.
B-movie moonlight spotlights inky bloodstains on hiking boots and jogging shorts and the meaty scars streaking the maniac’s twisted face.
My brother’s face.
I grip the television, but shit! I jerk away—the metal is red hot!
On screen, Theo surveys the boathouse, steel bear claws glinting from both fists as he steps inside.
He takes his time stalking toward Amy.
“Theo, what the hell?” I cry—and so does Amy.
“Theo!” she begs, trying to wave him off with her oar. “Fuck’s sake, snap out of it!”
He catches her oar mid-swing and yanks it away. Violins shriek as he tosses it aside and slashes out with his claws, inches from Amy’s horror-struck face.
“Theo, stop!” I shout.
“Jeremy…it knows us!” His ghost voice echoes the airwaves, but his mouth never moves. Flat, expressionless, a meat-puppet silently calling me. He swipes at Amy again. She recoils, screaming, rocking the rowboat. This time his blades graze her chin. Dark wet gashes.
This has to be a joke. A public access gotcha he cooked up to torment me for snatching his things.
“Jeremy…” His voice crackles, static-choked inside my spiraling ears. “Station 99… It gets inside…”
“Somebody!” Amy turns in a frantic escape-crouch, aiming to dive into the water.
Theo overshadows the rowboat, spreads his arms, and punches both bladed fists into the sides of Amy’s throat.
A slash of Technicolor-red paints the screen.
Impossible gore, impossible color. Blood sizzles against the glass. This can’t be real, I fumble the coal-hot television knobs, trying to dial back my sanity.
Click, click, click…
Every station is Station 99.
Theo hoists Amy from the boat, clamping her between his claws. She gurgles, gagging up neon blood before slumping into the boat with a grisly splash.
She’s dead! Blood everywhere! This can’t be real!
I punch the on/off button, again, again. Nothing happens.
Theo’s television won’t turn off!
I tumble off my mattress, skitter toward the outlet, reach for the plug.
“Don’t unplug it!” Theo’s voice again. At least, I think it’s Theo’s voice. Strangled vocals, choking on static. “That’s how it gets you…”
I drop the plug and confront the TV. “What do I do? Theo!”
But the station logo is back. Not black-and-white, but grisly red. The gargoyle-thing hunches over Station 99, watching me without eyes. Knowing me…
It twitches, starts to stand.
I back away, letting my crappy eyesight fog the screen.
A feedback screech of laughter fractures the glass, hatching gruesome light into the real world.
High up, the basement window shatters.
A faceless shadow crouches inside.
My bones lock up, icy steel, frozen picture tubes. I watch the nightmare shadow crawl through my window.
I exhale a ragged, gut-deep breath. “Heather?”
“Sorry about the window.” She kicks away teeth of broken glass with her steel-toe boots, then dips her face back in the gap. “Looked you up, saw your light on. Swear I only tapped the glass. To get your attention.”
She has it.
“You gonna help me down or what?”
“Oh, yeah.” I snap from my daze and scramble over. She spreads her leather jacket across the jagged window edge. Heather freaking Gibson. Any other night this would be the wildest dream come true.
I grip her midnight-cool hands then absorb her weight as she pops down, landing like a punk-rock ninja.
She ruffles the hair out of my eyes. “Did I wake you?”
“No, I was just watching—oh hell, Heather, look. Channel 99…”
But Theo’s television stands dark.
Dark, silent. Screen uncracked.
“Shit.” I fiddle the knobs, but the television stays dead. “I’m not messing with you. Feel, the screen’s still hot. I swear, it was just on.”
I tell her everything. The faceless gargoyle-thing, Camp Slash-Away, Amy and Theo with his dripping steel bear claws. Let it all gush out like a hacked-up jugular. I sound deranged like in the movies, those loopy town drunks nobody ever listens to. But if I don’t puke it out, it’ll fester inside, and Station 99 is already taking up so much space. It gets inside…
“Holy shit,” Heather says when I’m done.
“I get it if you don’t believe me.”
“No.” She stares at her lamplit reflection in Theo’s television. “I think I might. Listen, Jeremy, Collette Johnson is dead. Like really dead.”
“I know.” I swallow miserably. “Saw it on the news.”
“I asked around,” she says. “Station 99 and the Video Macabre were dead ends. Not even the geeks at the video store have heard of it. But there is something. A girl I know in Collette’s art class told me Collette said she needed to get a jacket back from one of her exes. That was two days ago. What if she meant Theo? What if she came here, and Theo intercepted her somehow?”
“No. No.” I jerk to my feet, start pacing. “Theo wouldn’t do that.”
“He’s no rock star,” Heather says. “What if he decided to be a movie star instead? Only something went wrong. He tried recreating his favorite horror movie, but a death scene got out of hand. After that, maybe things just snowballed.”
“You’re wrong, you don’t know him. Theo wears a hardcore shell, but he’d never hurt anyone.”
“You just watched him rip out Amy Sanchez’s throat.”
“That wasn’t him. It was…”
“Who? Claw Face? Reel Head?”
“Reel Head.” Heather winks at the TV. “The station mascot with the 35mm blindfold? We gotta call it something.”
“Yeah, I guess.” I swallow thickly. “Theo said it knows us.”
“Knows you how?”
“Not sure…” The television’s square eye gleams at me, reflecting our silhouettes. “Like when you look into it, it looks into you.”
Heather folds her arms, tries to conceal a shiver—or a laugh. “Listen, before we get all slippery with theories, we need proof Collette even came here.”
“Where’s Theo’s bedroom?”
Upstairs, we pick the lock on Theo’s door. Heather hits the light, and I cringe, half-expecting to find Theo sitting in the dark. The room’s empty.
“Maybe Collette snuck through the window?” Heather creeps inside, wrinkling her nose at Theo’s heavy metal residue. “He just left it like this?”
“Didn’t even take his mixtapes.” Station 99 doesn’t let you pack… But I don’t say the crazy part out loud. This surreal MTV dream girl, stealing my breath with her friendship and keen, smoky eyes, already thinks I’m bonkers enough.
Atop Theo’s dresser, a dust-free square marks the spot his television occupied just two days ago. Nearby, Heather pokes her toe through tangles of dirty laundry and unearths a jacket. The collar sparkles with purple sequins. “Guessing this isn’t Theo’s?”
I stare at it, vision throbbing with invisible static. “Doesn’t mean anything. Maybe it’s Amy’s or…or… Dammit!” I hunch over, fighting a gutful of sick. Not every night your dream girl proves your brother’s a psycho killer.
“Hey, it’s cool…” She rubs my back. “We’re both a little freaked.”
“Yeah.” I straighten, try to look less spineless. “So, what now? Rat him out to the cops?”
She holds my eyes, doesn’t let me flinch. “You think that’s why I’m here?”
Isn’t it? Our awkward silence again, dreamlike, invading Theo’s bedroom like static on a television, growing bigger, buzzing my heartbeat, stealing my voice. Heather bites her lip.
Oh hell, what am I doing? I shadow in and kiss her.
And she kisses me back, I swear she does. Soft but with bite, tastes like cherry lipstick and X-rated daydreams. Except suddenly, she’s shoving me away.
I start to apologize for being an idiot, for shooting above my horizon, but she clamps my chin between spikey fingernails and angles my face toward the bedroom window.
Red light sprays the glass, then a splash of blue.
Red, blue, red, blue.
The cops are out there.
Something’s happening in the woods behind my house. We watch in eerie silence from Theo’s bedroom window, our bleak faces pulsing with a red-blue heartbeat.
Cops use yellow tape to cordon off the trees where Theo and I used to camp. While Heather squeezes my sweaty hand, a coroner’s van pulls between the cop cars, stopping slantwise in the weeds. Officers escort the rubber-aproned coroner into the forest, and soon camera flashes ignite the skeletal silhouettes of trees. They’re photographing the crime scene. Can’t see the body from here, but we both know.
It’s Amy Sanchez.
“They’re gonna come looking for him,” I say. “Any second now, they’ll knock on my door. And what do I say? I saw it, Heather. I saw him kill her.”
She squeezes my hand. “We tell them the truth.”
I cough out a sick laugh. “What truth? That Reel Head made him do it?”
“C’mon.” She tugs me back down into the dim throat of my bedroom. She kneels between my bed and the cardboard box propping up Theo’s television. Tiny hesitation, then she punches the button. The screen erupts with static. “Looks like it’s working now.”
“What’re you doing?”
“What do you think?” She twists the knob, station after station of snow. With every click, my spine shivers, my nerves turn brittle.
“Maybe you should stop,” I whisper, like it can’t already hear everything we say and think and are.
“Stop?” Click, click… “If I witness Station 99, too, we’ll have a solid lead. It’s gotta be airing from a soundstage somewhere, right?”
Still sounds like she wants to turn my brother in. But that’s cool. Feels like I checked out hours ago, just a morbid spectator, watching all this from the comfort of unreality. Heather thinks Station 99 is a place the cops can just find? Like with K-9s and SWAT teams?
She wheels through empty channels…click, click, click…like Russian roulette.
I listen for Theo in the static.
Click, click… A combination lock she just can’t crack. Click-click-click! Growing hectic—are those faces in the snow? Faceless faces, seeking eyes to fill?
“Stupid thing!” Heather kicks the cardboard box.
The ancient, rotted cardboard crumples, and Theo’s television pitches face-first onto my concrete floor.
The screen shatters, sparks, dashes of lightning, a thousand glass pebbles scatter outward like cockroaches.
“Theo!” I cry. A bat-shit reaction, and I know it. Heather backs away, crunching broken glass as I hoist the shattered TV upright.
“God, sorry,” she says. “Guess I don’t know my own—”
She cuts short.
The television’s fine.
We both saw it shatter, can still see the evidence scattered across the floor.
But the television gleams at us, good as new.
The Station 99 logo glows inside phantom static.
Please stand by…
We perch on my bed, knee to trembling knee, waiting for who the hell knows what.
Heather decided we shouldn’t stare directly into the Station 99 logo, so now she grips my clammy hand and side-eyes the basement clutter. My dead mom’s boxes, shadow-deep, littered with Theo’s abandoned things. “This is where you sleep?”
I shrug. “Theo and I used to share a bedroom. He grew out of me, that’s all. It’s not so bad.”
“It’s just…” Heather chews her lip.
“Your whole identity seems buried down here.”
I flinch, can’t help it. “Sorry I’m such a faceless nobody.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“Yeah, but you’re right. It’s like with everyone gone, I don’t know who I am.”
The static glow ripples across Heather’s gorgeous, accepting face. I still can’t figure out what she’s doing here, middle of the night, with a haunted television and a killer on the loose, manifesting like an apparition I wished for and got.
“You’re my dream guy.” And she kisses me, lips red velvet. Heather Gibson kisses me.
This time, there’s no wondering if I overshot.
We clutch each other and go deep, cherry lightning, letting tonight’s tension unravel with every kiss. Wild gravity pulls us to the mattress and—
“Welcome back, Jeeerrreeemmmyyy, to the Video Macabre!”
Wide-eyed, Heather and I sit slowly upright. The gargoyle-thing with the 35mm blindfold waves hello from Station 99’s graveyard soundstage.
“Holy shit.” Heather grips my arm.
“Your old pal Reel Head here,” it says, flesh-mouth twitching. “Back from the shattered grave to continue tonight’s dreadful double feature! You just witnessed the throat-gushing new conclusion of Camp Slash-Away. Now, which fright-mare from the void will thrill you next?”
“Reel Head?” Heather says. “I just made that up.”
A wheel of misfortune appears on screen like a game show. A different movie title labels each spiderweb spoke. “Ready for a spin?”
A thrust of Reel Head’s bony hand, a black-and-white spiral. Click, click, click…
The wheel slows.
The Blob… Chopping Mall… Ghoulies…
Night of the Headbangers.
The one where toxin-dosing zombies infect a rock concert—I used to love this one.
Reel Head claps its pale bony hands. “Ladies and not-so-gentle-men, I give you Night of the Headbangers, starring Jeremy Romero and Heather Gibson. Live and in pieces!”
“No, no way.” Heather jerks to her feet. “This is fucked up, Jeremy. Turn it off.”
I try, just to show her I tried, punch the on/off button again, again. But it won’t turn off. Is this how Theo and his girlfriends felt right before Station 99 took them? An electric sort of inevitability. It crackles in Heather’s frantic gray eyes.
She lunges for the power cord, and I grab at her. Theo said to never unplug it, but she does anyway.
Blood-splashed lightning cracks like broken glass, zigzagging the basement. Heather shrieks my name.
She goes light-bright and skeletal.
Everything snaps to white. The air crackles. Thickens. Dims. Ears ringing, head twisting. The Station 99 logo sears my vision, then fades to ghostly afterimages.
All I sense is the concrete floor, a gray blur of movement. Heather? My mouth tastes meaty and metallic, coppery, like under-nuked meatloaf.
Somewhere nearby, Heather screams my name.
Lots of people are screaming. Movement. Chaos. Fog. Are the cops here? I blink again, and the patina of static clears. I raise my head.
Not cops. A rock concert.
I see Heather now, up there on the stage in the spotlight, hoisting an electric guitar.
A freak in a shredded concert T-shirt rushes the stage. Rushes Heather! She winds back and swings the guitar like an axe. As his grayscale head explodes in a pulp of neon red, it hits me. Oh hell.
Night of the Headbangers.
My mind bolts upright, sharpens. Rafters line the stage, and spotlights explode electricity, illuminating the toxin-dosed headbangers below. I’ve seen this scene a hundred times. Soon, a mob of frothing, gnashing zombies will storm the band and trap them backstage. Doesn’t end well for them. Only the drummer and a groupie survive…
Because they climb the rafters instead!
No time to freeze. I have to get Heather up there, save her, break us out of this Station 99 hellscape. I shoulder past twitching, foaming headbangers, and scramble onstage. Every metalhead’s dream. I angle for Heather, but the lead singer slashes my line of sight.
Alive, uninfected, and swinging his microphone stand like some off-brand Ozzy.
“Theo!” I try to scream it, but my voice froths with static.
But it’s really him, and inside I expel a ragged sob.
My brother. Live and in person!
I rush over, reaching for him, barely noticing the toxic-black veins infecting my arms until I shadow Theo’s spotlight and take hold.
“Jeremy, what the—” he cries, finally noticing me as I sink my teeth in. “Stop!”
Don’t make me do this!
But Station 99 knows us… It gets inside.
And it makes me do it. Like a bony hand lodged gut-deep, protruding up through my throat, flapping my jaw, snapping my frothing undead teeth.
Unable to stop, I chew out my brother’s vocal cords with a meaty rip.
Blood sprays the black-and-white stage, staining the scenery red.
Theo collapses in a gushing heap, a string-cut puppet. Tendons and meat. Will the cops match his wounds to my dental records? His unbelieving eyes lock on me as I crouch over him, ravenous, so ravenous. And I can’t stop!
I devour. Even after the light snaps to black behind my big brother’s eyes. Gnashing, frothing, screaming inside.
A steel toe boot connects with my head, shatters the picture tube inside.
I pitch sideways, then lift my dripping maw, flesh lodged in my teeth. My toxin-sharp vision shivers, narrows on my brains-and-leather dream girl. Hate for her to see me like this. I wanna wipe my mouth, but my arms don’t respond, except to reach for her.
“Snap out of it, Jeremy! You know what Reel Head does.” Heather cocks the gore-stained guitar overhead. “Damn it, Jeremy, fight it!”
“I’m sorry!” I try to scream, choking on static, teeth clicking. I can smell my mangled brother, my idol. The same blood infecting my veins pools around his head. I wanna spit.
This isn’t who I am.
I shamble to my feet. Heather backs keenly away, wild to swing. Reminds me of the girls who survive gory movies. I hope she’s seen this one. Hope she knows what she’s gotta do.
“Jeremy? Please! Don’t make me!”
Station 99 tightens its hold, bony fist flexing deep.
I try to fight its B-movie toxins—just like Theo tried. Closing in for one last kiss, meat-puppet teeth clicking, voice shouting on mute.
I was Heather Gibson’s dream guy, I think as the guitar shatters my vision.
Blood, lightning. Static fills me.
My midnight creep show hard-cuts to black.
Copyright © 2023 Amanda Cecelia Lang